Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Drunken State of Mind

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five is a novel packed with absurd things. Vonnegut captures the story of Billy Pilgrim with a sense of humor that is so complex, that you aren’t quite sure you should be even laughing. The novel describes the life of Billy Pilgrim and his state of being “unstuck in time”. Although this technique can be tricky to read, Vonnegut places us in Billy’s perspective and forces us to become “unstuck”.

At first when I was thinking of what to analyze, I was going to look at Billy’s job as an optometrist, finding it ironic that Billy wants to help correct the way people see, by prescribing them new lenses and frames, but right before I sat down to write this I read a quote that my friend had on her profile.

“And it starts, sometime around midnight.Or at least that’s when you lose yourselffor a minute or two.As you stand, under the bar lights.And the band plays some songabout forgetting yourself for a while.” – Airborn Toxic Event

This quote made me think that maybe Billy’s concept of being “unstuck” came from drinking because like the song implies, drinking helps you “lose yourself” and helps you “forget”. In Billy’s case, I feel that he tends to get lost in his past.

Let me try to explain my reasoning for this absurd thought, at the beginning of the novel Vonnegut starts off with stating “I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone” (4). Vonnegut then goes into his discussion about how he drunk dials friends he hasn’t heard from in awhile. This concept really resonated with the idea that maybe Billy’s idea of the simultaneity of events from the past, present and future just represent his drunken state and the effects of alcohol on his memory.

It might be a stretch to think this, but Vonnegut opens with multiple references to alcohol which only puts an emphasis on using alcohol as an escape. Even when Vonnegut goes to visit the O’Hare’s there is mention that Bernard couldn’t “drink the hard stuff since the war” (13) and when they reminisce on the past Vonnegut mentions soldiers who were “happy and drunk” (14). Starting the novel with multiple instances of alcohol really caught my attention.

The fantastical concept of being “unstuck in time” and traveling to Tralfamadore only helps prove my point that Billy must have been on something. I don’t know if I believe Billy to be drunk throughout the novel, but I believe that he may use alcohol as a release allowing him to relive the events of his life. The usage of alcohol helps explain the collage of these drama filled experiences.

I feel that this novel demonstrates the effect of war on people’s perspectives and personalities. If Billy is not under the influence, then in one shape or from Vonnegut is trying to show us that Billy needs a sense of release. These flashbacks could be alcohol induced or just Billy daydreaming and reliving the events of his life. By depicting these events as they happen, Vonnegut puts his audience in the shoes of Billy Pilgrim demonstrating how daydreaming (or drunkenness) presents a whole new world (in this case Tralfamadore) that seems to be real. I think Vonnegut's dramatic play with the fantastical aspects within the story is what makes this novel a great novel.

No comments:

Post a Comment